Promoters are predicting Rage Against the Machine will sell out Municipal Auditorium for its concert this week despite police protests that the rock band supports cop killers.
And with the remaining tickets selling fast, leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police have stopped encouraging a boycott of the show. They now are assuring the public that their members won’t harass concert-goers outside the city-owned auditorium.
Before the concert, police say they will hold a prayer vigil, placing a wreath at the auditorium’s entrance in memory of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, one of the convicted killers whose causes have been embraced by Rage, was sentenced to death in 1981 for killing Faulkner during an argument over a traffic violation. Abu-Jamal’s supporters say he was set up, that the prosecution withheld evidence from him, and that the judge was biased against him.
“We asked people not to go, but we respect people’s right to make their own choice,” FOP president Johnny Crumby says. “If they choose to go, we’re not going to try to stop them. We’re police officers. We don’t want any problems. I want our membership to be in a prayer-vigil mindset. I don’t want them to scream and raise cain.”
Municipal Auditorium manager Bob Skoney says ticket sales are hot, with 1,000 going for $25 apiece just over the weekend. As of Tuesday, 5,881 of the show’s 7,500 seats had been sold, and Skoney says a sellout is likely. No one has sought a ticket refund as a result of the police protest, he says.
Police across the country have been protesting Rage since the band held a benefit concert for Abu-Jamal this year in East Rutherford, N.J. New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman denounced the event as despicable. A New York state senator accused ticket-buyers of being “pro cop killer.” The National Association of Police Organizations lambasted the concert’s organizers for celebrating “a convicted cop killer.”
Nashville police asked Mayor Bill Purcell for his backing for their boycott. He didn’t make a public statement, but FOP leaders aren’t criticizing him for not speaking out.
“The mayor knows our stance,” Crumby says. “But Municipal Auditorium signed a contract with this group, and we can’t keep them from coming in. I would have loved to say, ‘No, you’re not coming into our city.’ But they are coming. The mayor has told us he agreed with what we’re doing. That’s all I needed to hear. I’ll do the speaking up publicly for our group.”
Asked to state Purcell’s position, his chief of staff, Bill Phillips, said, “The mayor feels like the band has the First Amendment right to sing or play music about what they like. But he personally doesn’t agree with their stand in support of the convict. He agrees with the FOP’s right to picket, and the police have assured us that they won’t in any way interfere with public-safety needs.”
Police are refusing to provide security at the concert. Skoney says a dozen off-duty policemen normally augment the private security firm Rock Solid at auditorium events. For this concert, Rock Solid will handle all security, but Skoney has met with police to seek assurances that they will respond to requests for help.
“They told us they will come in if we need them,” Skoney says. “But we’re not worried. We don’t think the police are going to antagonze the concert-goers as they enter the auditorium, and the concert-goers just want to see the band.”
Rage’s members say their foes are wrongly portraying the band as police haters. “This is not some far-flung left-field crazy case,” Rage guitarist Tom Morello told The New York Times in one interview on the campaign to win a new trial for Abu-Jamal. “This is as mainstream as human rights cases get. You’ve got Amnesty International on board saying give him a new trial. But because the incident involved the killing of a policeman, all rationality goes out the window. I would think that any decent policeman would want this guy to have another trial. If they’re so sure he’s guilty, why not?”
“How many times do you have to try and convict somebody of a crime?” Crumby responded. “This has been through the appeals process. That’s the judicial system in this country. We don’t keep having trials until the jury votes your way. No, we don’t think the guy deserves another trial.”
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